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Rockwell’s Children

12/06/2010

Are you tired of the Christmas music yet? Maybe you’re not a fan to begin with. I’ll sheepishly admit that I am; it’s a sound so heavy with memories that, once imbibed, I’m always surprised I’m not dragged back to the white winters of my childhood in Austria. Those were exceptionally beautiful winters, you see, the stars greedily crowding the sky, the snow sugared across the lanes, and settling on your shoulders as though you were nothing more than a frosted pastry. The gray silk of smoke rising spectrally from chimney after chimney, and your breathing sharp with the cold, and the intoxicating fragrance of smoke and pine. Exhale and your breath flits before your eyes as though you were briefly giving your spirit a glimpse of the expectant world surrounding you.

The roads are hectic, our radios hoarse, retail clerks wish they’d joined a monastic order. Our bank statements are alarming, our calendars, cages, our houses, toyshops. Driving through the neighborhoods, it’s hard not to find the occasional home, handsomely attired in the season’s best, looking an awful lot like a toy itself. If you look through the windows at the tree growing mysteriously in the living room, at the lights, at the ornaments hanging in a tantalizing canopy about the limbs, maybe you’ll be lucky enough to see people enacting the things that Norman Rockwell used to paint (things I’m often tempted to mock). But Rockwell’s children are still there, laughing and smiling as they sip from their steaming mugs, stoke their fires, argue about in-laws, heating bills and occasionally take the pulse of a Mr. Teddy to indulge a young girl with a sick and inanimate friend.

These weeks preceding Christmas serve as a forceful reminder of how cynical and cold-hearted I can be. I’m so tempted to see nothing but roads filled with homicidal shoppers, shopping malls filled with thronging masses that would incense the fire department, gaudy, handless pick-pockets bellowing from the radio, and television for me to throw my cash like confetti. But I look at those houses, those shining lights, those crowding, clamoring stars. I smell the smoke and pine. Those houses are expecting someone. Those people armed with their mugs, remote controls and checkbooks are expecting someone. I’m expecting someone. The stars themselves are expecting someone. The whole world is waiting and expecting someone. Listen to the music. But most of all, listen to the carols. You know, the ones so weighted with glory and memories as mysterious as distant relatives who stare like statues from faded frames. The songs so heavy they pull you back to the company of stargazing shepherds who got more than they bargained for, and then still further, all the way back to a manger that rocked the rock of ages.

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